News in brief September 2016

14 September 2016

Oil palm concessions and illegal loggers are continually encroaching upon Liberia’s dense forests. Fern’s new Video Blog with James Otto of the Sustainable Development Institute in Liberia gives a breakdown of the problems many local communities face when confronted with the prospect of an oil palm plantation taking over their land. Otto explores how to empower communities, and how Liberia’s FLEGT VPA could be expanded to help stem the tide of deforestation, allowing many Liberians to maintain their livelihoods.

The Timber Investigation Centre is a new resource dedicated to improving the ability of civil society to monitor illegal logging and deforestation, track illegal wood through international supply chains and use the information obtained to best effect, including harnessing relevant laws in the US and EU. The Guidebook and website are available in English, French, Spanish and Indonesian. NGOs, activists, communities and journalists in timber-producing countries can apply to Earthsight for assistance with investigating illegal timber cases. This (non-financial) assistance can range from general tactical advice to specific help with such things as sourcing and analysing satellite images, tracking vessels or identifying buyers. In the strongest cases, Earthsight may also be able to partner in carrying out field investigations.

In August 2016 the European Commission published its Staff Working Document (SWD) on the evaluation of the first 11 years of the FLEGT Action Plan, marking the conclusion of the evaluation process. The document draws upon the EC’s review of the EU Timber Regulation (FW214FW213) and the 2015 European Court of Auditors’ audit of the Action Plan (FW209). The SWD confirms that the FLEGT Action Plan is “relatively cost effective” and “a good example of policy coherence,” particularly in reference to a number of goals in the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which will inform the future of EU development policy. Fern believes that the lessons from FLEGT, and more broadly the vital role of forests in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, must be reflected in the European Consensus on Development.

Members of the Central African Republic (CAR) civil society platform Gestion Durable des Ressources Naturelles (GDRNE), including Fern’s local partner CIEDD, welcome the establishment of a Special Criminal Court in CAR to investigate and prosecute the serious crimes that were committed during the recent political crisis. In July 2016, during a consultation on operationalising such a court, GDRNE and other civil society organisations (CSOs) and legal experts conveyed their views and concerns. They recommended speeding up the court’s establishment and supporting CSOs in their efforts to raise victims’ awareness of its existence, including communities living in remote forest areas. During the 2013 civil conflict (FW184, FW195FW204), CAR experienced extreme violence, and many forest communities suffered abuse from armed militias. In the absence of legal proceedings, these communities were not able to seek redress. The Special Criminal Court is a positive move to fight impunity, stabilise the country, and ensure that all citizens from CAR can obtain justice.

Voluntary Partnership Agreement implementation and civil society denunciations about illegal logging activities are having tangible impacts as Cameroon takes decisive action to improve its reputation as high-risk timber trade country. In August 2016, the Cameroonian Minister of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) issued a register of forest infractions committed by logging companies during the first quarter of 2016. For the first time, MINFOF’s quarterly report was widely picked up by the press, which reported that companies were sanctioned for fraud, corruption and non-respect of social clauses. Eight logging companies got their licenses suspended, and more than 35 others were issued warning notices. The enforcement actions generated more than Euro 82,705 in fines. Cameroon loses an estimated USD 5.3 million in yearly revenue to illegal logging.

The UK government Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into the domestic implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to establish how to effectively and rapidly implement the SDGs, monitor their progress and ensure better scrutiny of the Government’s performance. The Committee invites submissions concerning the opportunities and benefits of domestic delivery of the SDGs, how best to deliver the SDGs, and how to measure and communicate performance. An earlier report from the International Development Committee indicated slow progress towards SDG implementation and timid engagement by government departments. The UK played an important role in the global discussions of the UN SDGs, and NGOs in the UK and beyond believe that its government should be a model for SDG implementation, particularly when it comes to goals that affect biodiversity and resource rights. The deadline for submissions is 16 September 2016; find the submissions form here.

The devastating impact that the EU’s renewable energy policy is having on the forests and wetlands of the Southeast United States was graphically illustrated in a photo story by our bioenergy campaigner Linde Zuidema. Her images confirm the findings of a recent study by the European Commission which showed how EU bioenergy demand is increasing pressure on the forests in the Southeast US.

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